Home  »  Yale Book of American Verse  »  78 The Old Burying-Ground

Thomas R. Lounsbury, ed. (1838–1915). Yale Book of American Verse. 1912.

John Greenleaf Whittier 1807–1892

John Greenleaf Whittier

78 The Old Burying-Ground

OUR vales are sweet with fern and rose,

Our hills are maple-crowned;

But not from them our fathers chose

The village burying-ground.

The dreariest spot in all the land

To Death they set apart;

With scanty grace from Nature’s hand,

And none from that of Art.

A winding wall of mossy stone,

Frost-flung and broken, lines

A lonesome acre thinly grown

With grass and wandering vines.

Without the wall a birch-tree shows

Its drooped and tasselled head;

Within, a stag-horned sumach grows,

Fern-leafed, with spikes of red.

There, sheep that graze the neighboring plain

Like white ghosts come and go,

The farm-horse drags his fetlock chain,

The cow-bell tinkles slow.

Low moans the river from its bed,

The distant pines reply;

Like mourners shrinking from the dead,

They stand apart and sigh.

Unshaded smites the summer sun,

Unchecked the winter blast;

The school-girl learns the place to shun,

With glances backward cast.

For thus our fathers testified,—

That he might read who ran,—

The emptiness of human pride,

The nothingness of man.

They dared not plant the grave with flowers,

Nor dress the funeral sod,

Where, with a love as deep as ours,

They left their dead with God.

The hard and thorny path they kept

From beauty turned aside;

Nor missed they over those who slept

The grace to life denied.

Yet still the wilding flowers would blow,

The golden leaves would fall,

The seasons come, the seasons go,

And God be good to all.

Above the graves the blackberry hung

In bloom and green its wreath,

And harebells swung as if they rung

The chimes of peace beneath.

The beauty Nature loves to share,

The gifts she hath for all,

The common light, the common air,

O’ercrept the graveyard’s wall.

It knew the glow of eventide,

The sunrise and the noon,

And glorified and sanctified

It slept beneath the moon.

With flowers or snow-flakes for its sod,

Around the seasons ran,

And evermore the love of God

Rebuked the fear of man.

We dwell with fears on either hand,

Within a daily strife,

And spectral problems waiting stand

Before the gates of life.

The doubts we vainly seek to solve,

The truths we know, are one;

The known and nameless stars revolve

Around the Central Sun.

And if we reap as we have sown,

And take the dole we deal,

The law of pain is love alone,

The wounding is to heal.

Unharmed from change to change we glide,

We fall as in our dreams;

The far-off terror at our side

A smiling angel seems.

Secure on God’s all-tender heart

Alike rest great and small;

Why fear to lose our little part,

When he is pledged for all?

O fearful heart and troubled brain!

Take hope and strength from this,—

That Nature never hints in vain,

Nor prophesies amiss.

Her wild birds sing the same sweet stave,

Her lights and airs are given

Alike to playground and the grave;

And over both is Heaven.